League of Women Voters: Spread the word! Don’t let “Proof of Citizenship” letters discourage voting!

By Meg Wallace

The League of Women Voters of Texas (LWVTX) is spreading the word that naturalized citizens who properly registered to vote are indeed eligible to vote, in spite of what they may have heard in the news or received in their mailbox.

If you are a naturalized citizen who is registered to vote in Texas, you may have received a letter indicating that you must prove your citizenship in order to vote.  Please do not let this letter discourage you from voting.

How did the letter come about?

In late January, Texas Secretary of State David Whitley created a list of names of people on the Texas voting rolls who may be noncitizens. Across the state, 95,000 people were on Whitley’s list. Of those, about 58,000 where shown to have voted at some point during the past 22 years.

Whitley sent this list to county elections officials and indicated they should send these registrants a “Proof of Citizenship” letter.  The letter instructed the registrants that they have 30 days to prove their eligibility to vote, and that if they don’t prove their eligibility the county registrar will cancel their voter registration.  Whitley circulated a media release about his actions late on a Friday afternoon.

This list received quite a bit of attention on social media and mainstream media. On the same Friday afternoon Secretary of State Whitley circulated his media release, Governor Greg Abbott and Lt. Governor Dan Patrick tweeted about “illegal voter registration,” and Attorney General Ken Paxton tweeted a warning of “VOTER FRAUD” in all caps. Soon after, President Donald Trump also tweeted about the assumed fraud.

Problems with the list

As it turns out, however, there are serious problems with the list. First of all, according to Cinde Weatherby, LWVTX Voting Rights/Election Law Issue Chair, “Many of the names represent noncitizens who applied for a driver license or State ID at the Texas Department of Public Safety during the past 22 years.” In the meantime, many of those individuals have become citizens. Each year from 52,000 to 63,000 Texans are naturalized in Texas. There are no requirements for them to notify the Department of Public Safety of that action.

“Proof of Citizenship” letters known to discourage voting

Challenge letters like the “Proof of Citizenship” letter described here have been shown to suppress voter participation. If someone is sent a letter and does not respond as instructed within the 30-day period provided, their registration can be canceled.  This produces an additional burden on the voting rights of a specific group of registered voters: recently naturalized citizens.  As a federal judge wroteregarding a similar recent attempted voter purge in Florida, “A state cannot properly impose burdensome demands in a discriminatory manner.” Furthermore, the text of the Proof of Citizenship letter suggested by the Texas Secretary of State does not indicate how registrants should supply their proof of citizenship to elections officials. This creates confusion, making it difficult for registrants who receive the letter to comply.

Upon hearing of the Secretary of State Whitley’s actions, Julieta Garibay, co-founder of United We Dream, contacted her county’s voter registrar office and received confirmation that she was on Whitley’s list. Originally from Mexico, Garibay moved to Austin in the 1990s and received a green card as a domestic violence survivor. She became a citizen in 2018 and voted for the first time in November. In her testimony at Whitley’s confirmation hearing before the Texas Senate Nominations Committee this month, she said, “As a Latina, as a woman, as a proud immigrant with an accent, I know my right, duty, and responsibility as a U.S. citizen, and I do not take it lightly. Winning my right to vote was not a victory just for me or my family. Rather, it was a victory for my community… I will not let these bullies intimidate me or prevent me from voting.”

How does this affect us in Waco?

Kathy Van Wolfe, McLennan County Elections Administrator, reports that her office did not send any Proof of Citizenship letters in response to Whitley’s instructions. Soon after she received the list, the Secretary of State’s office contacted her office to confirm all 388 people on the list sent to her had already been confirmed as citizens. At least five counties are known to have sent the letters. It is possible McLennan County voters may have family and friends who received them.

What should people do if they receive the letter?

LWVTX advises naturalized citizens who may receive the letter to “contact your county voter registrar to find out how to provide a copy of your naturalization certificate or U.S. Passport.” County voter registrar contact information is available on the LWVTX website’s naturalized citizen page.

“The League congratulates naturalized citizens participating as voters,” says LWVTX President Grace Chimene. “Every naturalized citizen, you have a right to vote and participate fully in our democracy.”

For more information about The League of Women Voters in Waco, please visit the Facebook page: League of Women Voters of Waco.

Meg Wallace is the organizer of the Amberley Collaborative a new nonprofit that is increasing the caring capacity of Waco and McLennan County by strengthening residents’ natural support systems.

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email [email protected] for more information.

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1 Comment

  1. Cheryl Traudt on March 1, 2019 at 6:54 am

    I appreciate your non-partisan voice in our world!

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